It is no accident that Dr. Jim Walsh is leading GIFT’s groundbreaking initiative in Delaware to show the remarkable benefit when mindfulness is integrated into every sector of society. In effect, it is a natural extension of the work he has been doing for decades on the front line of this movement.
A clinical therapist specializing in pastoral counseling, Dr. Walsh is living proof of the viral effect that happens when individuals put meditation and mindfulness to work in their lives. In addition to teaching courses to the public and helping many hundreds of individuals in therapy, he has personally trained over 120 psychologists and social workers how to incorporate mindfulness training in their counseling. Catholic- raised and Jesuit-educated at Fordham University, Dr. Walsh was engaged in the social justice movement growing up in the 1960s and 70s. Later, readings of philosopher and mystic Thomas Merton inspired him to integrate Zen Buddhism and other philosophies into a broader spirituality.
Through volunteer work at a hospice and leading retreats for newly converted Catholics in the 1990s, Dr. Walsh discovered a higher calling. “You can’t put it into words, but it was real,” he explains. “When you sit with somebody who is suffering and you bring their presence to body, heart, and mind as fully as you are able to, something happens in the room that’s causal for change, growth and healing.”
Dr. Walsh soon left a lucrative career leading a national marketing and sales organization to pursue his master’s and doctorate at Loyola University in pastoral counseling (clinical therapy that understands how incorporating religious and spiritual values can be a helpful pathway). It would be his encounter with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living and its mindfulness-based stress reduction technology that brought him the most important piece of the puzzle—a way to cut through the jargon to give people the full self-experience of what it means to live mindfully.
“Although I do more as a therapist, my greatest joy is to teach the self-experience of mindfulness and then watch what happens as seemingly impossible problems no longer dominate our being. One patient suffering from intractable chronic depression put it best: ‘I still feel a depression coming but now instead of getting angry, afraid or ashamed, I just notice it. I make space for that depression. It’s like a cranky neighbor down the street who doesn’t upset me anymore. If I’m kind and treat that person honorably, it no longer has a grip on me. My depression is like that cranky neighbor. Today, I never say I am depressed. Instead, I say I’m feeling some depression.’ There’s a world of difference between those two statements.”
The latest news is that Dr. Walsh and his team’s efforts to make Delaware “the first mindful state” has taken a major leap forward due to a groundbreaking delivery system to remove barriers to training and education. This effort is experiencing rapid exponential growth in its mission. With its success, the project is already garnering attention from national and state policymakers beyond Delaware. The first major barrier Delaware has solved is cost. Traditionally, mindfulness training programs can cost consumers between $325 to $700, affordable only for those with sufficient means. Through efficiencies and minimal underwriting, this training is available for free. But the more significant challenge of reaching and educating those most in need (beyond “preaching to the choir”) is where the most exciting and innovative development has occurred. Dr. Walsh, who has been training mental health providers in his state since 1998, working closely with the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) of the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Walsh got buy-in from its director Dr. Carol Kuprevich for the vision to quickly get mindfulness training to as many as possible. A small grant from the agency and access to their infrastructure jumpstarted the project. With the shift from away from a fee-based service, Dr. Walsh and GIFT Founder and President Sam Beard tackled the need to get this training to underserved populations. They hit on the novel idea of getting to the non-profit organizations and agencies that serve these populations and train their staff members, first in mindfulness practice for themselves and then on how to train others.
A good illustration is The Boys and Girls Club of Delaware (B&GC). Dr. Walsh and GIFT set up an 8-week training course for 15 staff members at the organization to give them tools for both personal practice and becoming trainers themselves. As a result, B&GC’s director committed to transforming the organization into “a culture of mindfulness” with the goal of engaging its 30,000 members and their families in the training and practice. The introduction can be as simple as a trainer saying to a group of 25 teenagers coming in for a program, “Let’s begin our meeting with a 5-minute meditation.” Furthermore, B&GC has partnered with DSAMH and donated the use of its 43 clubs around the state as a site for training programs for other groups, further reducing the costs. This approach is being replicated at other non-profits and agencies with the expectation that mindfulness will continue to grow at viral speed throughout the state.
All inquiries for the work of Dr. Jim Walsh or the Delaware project, email [email protected]